Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor

We Shouldn't Have Come to China

A friend was curious why I wanted to give this show a chance. The answer is simple, and I will not deny that I sort of enjoyed the free-wheeling, breezy summer action-adventure-comedy with a generous dose of special effects thrown in, which the Mummy and The Mummy Returns offered, together with the great chemistry between Brendan Fraser, Rachel Weisz and John Hannah. But this installment of Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, came hot on the heels of the Hollywood bandwagon of raiding their own franchises in order to rake in millions around the world, and therefore fell short on many counts.

The main creative force behind the Mummy franchise (discounting the spin off of The Scorpion King) is writer-director Stephen Sommers, and this time round, he's handed over the reins to Rob Cohen, who of course is no stranger to action flicks like this, but you know what? He's never done a follow up movie before. He starts franchises, like The Fast and the Furious, and xXx, but never taking it over from someone else. Therefore, whatever original essence and flavour that the earlier movies possessed, became lost in the change at the helm. Even the jokes, usually having John Hannah delivering the bulk of them, seemed contrived, tired and just jarring - oh we need a joke now, cut to John, say something, and cut back to the action.

Then, the change in lead actress would have signalled that something was amiss. While this isn't anything new (just ask Christopher Nolan when he replaced Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal), it does tell you something that Rachel Weisz had a good reason not to reprise her role, and good for you, girl! Maria Bello was a poor replacement who lacks the great chemistry that Weisz shared with Fraser, and worse, was let down by the storyline. In fact, you can even take out her Eve O'Connell, and you won't miss a thing, not to mention that she now has to share the limelight with 2 other actresses in Michelle Yeoh, and contend with a younger upstart in Isabella Leong.

There were plenty other missteps along the way, more noticeably in the Asian casting. While Jet Li got star billing, he had only limited screentime, while his digital double had chosen to do battle with The Dark Knight in a bout of who's having the gruff voice of the year. Michelle Yeoh as a witch with magical powers might just stretch it a little, though she does get some justice here when she got to go one on one against Jet, after having her role unceremoniously dumped in their earlier collaboration Fearless. While Isabella Leong primarily fulfilled her flower vase role successfully, Russell Wong given a cameo and even Wu Jing managed to appear for 5 seconds, Anthony Wong recycled his uniform in The Painted Veil for an appearance here, and also recycled his performance in being the quintessential baddie. Yes the role probably had a lot more Asian faces than your usual Hollywood blockbuster, but these are roles that are nothing to shout about, and being so only because the movie is set in Post WWII China.

And don't get me started on the story. This marks the 2nd consecutive time that Jet's character got cast in stone, the previous being in The Forbidden Kingdom, and unless he wants to make this a habit, I'd say he better screen his next script properly. His role here is similar to that of The Rock's in The Mummy Returns, so you'll probably be bored by the sense of deja vu, especially when the story develops in familiar ground, like high speed chases through the city at night, and set action pieces in preventing mummy dearest from achieving full power. It took a leaf out of Return of the King, and had CGI armies pitting themselves against each other in one messy lump. Arrows are cool, and the show reminded us again. The effects, while nicely rendered, still felt too tired from its paying homage to whatever had already gone before.

If you're a fan of Brendan Fraser, I'd recommend you to go watch him Journey to the Center of the Earth because he disappears into the background here no thanks to the insipid story. Even the 2D print showing here would beat The Mummy hands down in the entertainment department. Unless of course you prefer having to watch something of the same-old, which had woefully lost the magic its predecessors possessed. I guess some Mummies do not deserved to be resurrected.

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